Friends, we are launching a new series, "This is my story..."  The title of the series is taken from the popular Fanny Crosby hymn, "Blessed Assurance," whose refrain is, "This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long."  Over the years, I've gotten to know many stories of members of our parish.  I have been encouraged by them and grateful for God's work among us.  I believe these stories need to be shared and that by doing so, we can encourage one another.  John's story is the first in the series --and what a story it is!  I invite and encourage you to share your story as well. I'd love to share them with our parish.  Testimony is a powerful thing in the body of Christ, as you can see below.

Jan West

I was a Buddhist all my life, but I never considered myself a religious person.  I didn’t go to the temple, and I didn’t go to church. My dad was Laotian, and my mom was Thai. I am the first of six children. We were living in Laos until a war broke out. My mom was pregnant with me, so they went to Thailand and that’s where I was born.  After the war was over my parents went back to Laos, they left me with my aunt until I was about five years old. By this time, they had a couple more kids and they took me back so I could help take care of my younger brothers while my parents traveled sometimes for a whole week.  The only thing I knew how to cook was rice and eggs.  

When I was 5 my father started physically, emotionally and sexually abusing me.  My mom knew but, she was afraid of him so there was nothing she could do, and then civil war started again in Laos.  This time the communists were coming to arrest my family because my dad worked for American Airlines. So, we came back to Thailand again to live with my mom’s family for a while, then we went to live in a refugee camp.  The camps are just like chicken pens, a long building made from bamboo with no doors, just a slot. The camp was guarded with armed guards, we couldn’t go out of the camp.  Food was brought in once a week for each building and was divided according to how many people were in each family.  If we ate all the food that is all we would get until the next week.  Everybody who lived in the camp wanted to go somewhere else.  Our family was lucky somebody in United States sponsored us.  From what I remember it was a church lady, I cannot remember her name, she picked our name out of a hat and brought us here to Murfreesboro.

There was already on Asian family in Murfreesboro, we were the second. It was 1977 when I came to United States and as soon as I was legally able to work, I was put to work to give the family another paycheck. I was given $20 a week for gas money, but I save as much as I could in secret. All this time the abuse kept going on and my family started to notice I had American friends.  I was not allowed to go anywhere or have any friends come over and one day my father put loaded gun up to my head and said if I ever try to run away, he will kill me.  I didn’t cry, I didn’t beg, I didn’t let anybody see me weak. When I turned 21 I was supposed to marry my cousin.  By this time the abuse at home got so bad that all I wanted to do was die so I left home with a T-shirt, a dress, flip-flops, $1000 I had secretly saved and my ID.  I didn’t really have a plan how to run away.  I just kept driving all night thinking about how to end my life. The only phone number I remember was a friend of mine, so I called him.  He said just stay where you are I will come and get you and he has been good to me all these years.  He helped me, protected me, he has taken care of me all these years as he promised and he still does in his own way, I must thank God for him.  
But my problems didn’t go away mentally, I never felt good enough, I could never do enough, or be enough to get rid of the pain, so I worked and worked and worked.  I thought if I worked hard enough and made enough money and had enough of everything, I would be ok. But I was not OK.  I kept going to the doctor for anxiety and depression medication. It would help for a while; it would make me not feeling anything and then it would not help so I kept going back to the doctor and they kept making my medication stronger.  It would work for a while again, but I would have to keep going back again and again. Eventually the medication, the anxiety, depression and working 12 hours a day seven days a week got to be too much.  All the money, all the things I had didn’t mean anything to me, I feel like I didn’t have anything to get up in the morning for, I didn’t have any reason to live, and one day when I drove home from work, I got so dizzy I couldn’t breathe so I just pulled my car off to the side of the road. I tried to breathe but I couldn’t get air to my lungs, and I remember I said Jesus please help me.  I don’t know why, I was not a religious person, I had never been taught about God and I had been raised as a Buddhist.  

A couple of weeks later Nina Hanson ask if I would come to church with her and her family.  She didn’t know much about me, only that I spent money like I was pouring water at the Farmers Market. I had met Nina Hanson and her family at the Lascassas Farmers Market.  When Nina invited me to come to church Nina said, “come and see.”  Now, I know those words come from the Bible. Nina also said there’s a lot of food, at the time I thought it was the food that got me to the church. When I stepped into the Thompson Hall the first time it was December 08, 2021. I will never forget that day. It was before Christmas, there was a lot of celebration. Normally I would turn around and go home. I am not people person. I had so much rage in my head and in my heart and I didn’t like to be around strangers.  But when I walked in the Thompson Hall, I felt different, I felt comfortable.  I was riding home from church with the Hansons, and I told Richard Hanson that it felt like a home, now thinking back I felt like I had come home.

The first Sunday I attended the service during Fr. Chris’s sermon I could not stop crying and I cannot stop crying ever since. But it’s not because I am sad, I don’t really know how to explain it but every sermon since then it’s like Fr. Chris and Fr. Wesley are talking to me personally and I am OK with that.  Jesus Christ has opened my eyes and my heart and given me love and peace that I never known. Now every day I see miracles. I didn’t know I was lost for 60 years. The first miracle that I witnessed was me!  Jesus Christ saved me and now I have faith and believe in Jesus Christ. God is real hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus, thank You for saving me, thank You for loving me, thank You for giving me everything I have and everything I need, thank You for Your guidance and thank You God for my Beautiful loving Christian Church family.  Thanks be to God from all my heart my soul and my spirit thank You Jesus.

John Seward

My coming to Christ was not a sudden spectacular event. I was not blinded by the light on the road to Damascus. It was a long, gradual process.

I was not exposed to Christianity growing up. My parents were not religious. I never set foot in a church until I was an adult and then only for the occasional wedding or funeral. As a kid I assumed that the story of Jesus was just something adults told children, like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. I didn’t have any idea that grown-ups actually believed it.

When I was in college at Iowa State University I was the kind of atheist jerk who mocked people for believing in God. Then the 60s arrived. I was living in a crash pad in Iowa City in 1966 when a friend of mine discovered that you could order fresh peyote buttons through the mail from Lawson’s Texas Cactus Gardens. The first time I ate peyote my materialism vanished. There were obviously more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in my philosophy.

After that it was a long, strange trip through psychedelics, Zen, a false prophet named Stephen Gaskin, eight years living on a hippie commune in Tennessee, and a period of going to Native American Church tipi meetings, among many spiritual dead end journeys. I read many many books on Buddhism, Jungian psychology, Yoga, everything but the Bible. Christianity was too square, unhip.

Then I came across C. S. Lewis, and was presented with a clear, coherent, intelligent, passionate exposition of the truth of Jesus Christ. If this is really true, if Jesus really is the Son of God who came to Earth, was crucified, died, was resurrected, and ascended into Heaven, that changes everything. It made such perfect sense that that is what the Creator would do. That is who He must be.

At that point it was an intellectual realization. There must be a God and the God of the Bible must be who he is. I loved Zen, but this was clearly a more human and more profound truth. I started thinking of myself as a Christian, but I was still very leery of getting involved with a church. I called myself a lone wolf Christian.

At some point reading Lewis I found a passage describing the absolute necessity of being a member of a church, which is after all the body of Christ, and of taking part in the sacrament of Communion. So I figured I had better find a church. I went online and looked at church websites in Murfreesboro and listened to some recorded sermons. Finally I came to stpatricksboro.org and listened to a sermon from Father B that I really liked. As it turns out, Candace had happened to drive by Saint Patrick's previously and thought it was a church I might like, just from the look of it.

So I went on Sunday. I was a little nervous. I’m not exactly a people person, and I had never attended church before. Father Ray was preaching. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I loved the liturgy. I loved the sermon. I loved the people. I started going to the class in Cole House that Father Chris was teaching. I asked him about being baptized.

Easter 2019 I was baptized and everything changed. The Holy Spirit entered my life. I began receiving instructions, to pray in the morning and the evening, to read the Bible, to quit drinking and smoking marijuana, to catch myself before being irritated by little things that didn't go my way.

I had never thought of myself as being a sinner. I always believed I was a good person. Now I realized how wrong I was. I became painfully aware of the sins I had committed against many people, my parents, my wife, my children, friends, lovers. I confessed my sins to Father Ray, repented, was absolved, and began to make amends. What a relief! I am happier and more at peace now than I have ever been. As Father Chris has said, it’s night and day. Recently my wife told me, “You are much easier since you became a Christian.”

The Holy Spirit has also informed me that far from being the accomplished spiritual athlete I imagined myself to be, I am a rank beginner. My faith is weak, my trust in the Lord is wobbly. I have a long way to go, but there is help. The way is narrow, but His yoke is easy.